Friday, March 30, 2012

When to (not) observe casual Friday

This question comes up now and then, and now that I live in such a professional city, it's definitely one worth asking. Especially if I were to wear my cute skinny jeans on a Friday, forget about an important meeting, and get asked by a colleague at that meeting if I had actually gone to work that day.

Not that this happened, of course.

But just in case you're tempted to go casual, I've put together this handy guide.

Should I observe casual Friday?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Apparently being from Montana is a liability when dancing

Given the title of this post, you’re probably about to crack some joke about how Montanans can’t dance unless we’re in a barn with hay and a fiddle. You country bumpkins are so quaint, you think, just like all those Lifetime movies with Katherine Heigl before she got famous and did crap like The Ugly Truth. Yes, I’m sure you’re thinking exactly that.

First of all, our country hoe-downs are grand fun. Don’t knock ‘em til you try ‘em. Second of all, we can also do other types of dancing. I’m a big fan of swing, myself. However, I do also love me some uncoordinated, spastic club dancing – great in a place like DC, which has so many clubs.  And gradually over the years, my awkward 80’s moves have morphed into something that can actually resemble some pretty decent club dancing (although I can still whip out the Shopping Cart or the Sprinkler on occasion).  

My point is, I love club dancing. And not in an I’m-still-in-college-and-looking-for-affirmation-on-the-dance-floor kind of way, but in an I’m-an-adult-with-a-job-look-at-me-cut-loose kind of way. Minus the job part, of course.

Unfortunately, I have a handicap.

Everyone here in DC thinks my Montana ID is a fake.

I actually found this pretty funny the first time it happened.  I was out with some co-workers, casually handed off my card to the burly Russian-looking bouncer, and prepared to receive it back with the typical “Gee you’re far from home” comment. Instead he held my card, glared at me with a look that plainly said, “Вы незаконно!and crossed his arms, barring entrance. Luckily, my hiring manager was there and assured him that she would not have hired me had I been underage.  He grudgingly let me pass.

The second time was on Halloween. Also a funny occasion, as I stood by the door watching as Gaddafi after Qaddafi after Khadafi strolled through in their bad wigs and golden robes. This time, the bar manager had to come over to take a look at my ID. “I promise it’s real,” I told him. “I’m sure you hear that all the time, but just check with your little UV pen and you’ll see the holographic bears on it.” Grizzlies, to be precise.  The manager relented this time, too.

But this past St. Patty’s Day, my luck ran out. The bouncer, who I maintain had a chip on his shoulder anyway (something corroborated by my friends…the phrase “douchebag” may have been used), took one look at my ID and said flatly, “You’re not getting in.” And none of my cajoling or explanations made a whit of difference.

Curse you, Montana driver’s license!  

Actually, I wasn’t 100% sure that my rejection was based on my license…after all, it WAS St. Patty’s Day. But I had my managers at the liquor store take a look at my ID the next week, and all of them immediately said something along the lines of Yup, that looks really fake.

Sigh. I really don’t want to be one of those girls who takes her passport to bars. Her passport, of all things. Having lived abroad for a year, a passport is like gold and not something to be dog-eared as your bar companion. Not only that, it’s fairly easy (so I hear) to steal an identity based solely on a passport.

Nope, not for me.

Time for a DC driver’s license?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Panache and a Pokerface, OR "How discouragement is actually like a card game"

This past week has been a Discouraged Week. That in itself isn’t particularly noteworthy – anyone trying to break into a career is going to ride an inevitable rollercoaster of highs and lows, and discouragement is a regular emotion that we’ll all experience. I’m just a little bummed because this Discouraged Week feels a little different than the others; this time, I’m just so weary.

I’m weary of working 60-hour weeks. I’m weary of giving up my Saturdays. I’m weary of the constant pressure to search for jobs, the constant need to write cover letters and tweak resumes, the cruel cycle of the interview process. I’m weary of being patient. Of waiting for “the right thing to come along.”  Everything happens for a reason and blah de blah de blah, but you know what? I’m weary of feeling like a failure. 

I know, I have a fancy diploma and a resume and even a brain that tell me otherwise, but this doesn’t stop me from wanting to hang my hat up and become a professional waitress. At least waitresses get paid!

The biggest threat from discouragement is that we slowly start selling ourselves short.  We slowly convince ourselves that we’re no good. That we’re not smart. Not qualified. Not deserving. We can only do “administrative support” or conduct “miscellaneous tasks”, and all I’ll ever be is That Intern On The 6th Floor.

This is such a lie, and it’s so dangerous. For one, it makes us feel like shit. For another, it traps us in a box of our own making. This lie wants to keep me from applying for that editor position at Politico, hinder me from emailing my CEO for career advice. It makes me think ridiculous things like, Well, that would be an awesome job, but I’m clearly not qualified because all I know how to do is make copies and fetch donuts, or, I’m not gonna apply for this because I’m actually stupid, and the intern who sits next to me used to work for the UN in Jakarta – I bet someone like him has already applied.

Sometimes, it’s very important that we not listen to the things we tell ourselves.

Instead, we need to trust in our abilities. We need to trust in our potential. We need to bet on ourselves, and showcase our qualities in the best possible way, even if privately we doubt ourselves.  I think this could boil down to two words: panache and pokerface. Represent yourself with flair, individuality, and strength. That’s the panache part. And do it unflinchingly, even if the player next to you appears to have a full house.  That's the pokerface part. It’s up to you – er, up to me, since I guess I’m talking about myself here – up to me to sell my hand. After all, if I don’t demonstrate confidence in myself, why should I expect employers to?

Wow, who knew I would have such a great metaphor. I’m not even that much of a card player.

I’ll end this with a quote from a very wise woman.  It’s become something of a refrain of mine, so I hope it helps you, too, when you feel discouraged:

“You is smart. You is kind. You is important.”

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Monday, March 5, 2012

When to feel under-qualified at work

When the interns next to you previously worked at the United Nations in Jakarta, speak at least three languages completely fluently (so far: French, Swedish, Spanish, Arabic, and Flemish), were born in Africa, and/or have a prestigious government fellowship.

Me: Hi, I’m Aftan, and I’m from Montana?